Moonshine: From Woods To Whiskey

Throughout its storied past, moonshine has been called many things: shine, white lightning, hooch, fire water, white dog, or bathtub gin.  Without regulation, there was no standardization to the methods or monikers of “moonshine”.  Currently, to be called “moonshine”, there are some loose qualifications the spirit must meet.  Ultimately, moonshine is grain alcohol at its purest form.

Moonshine was originally made in secret during the prohibition era and, to contemporary purists, it’s not considered “moonshine” unless it’s clandestine.  However, most distilleries now legally produce moonshine, regardless of whether they bottle and sell a product labeled as “moonshine.”  Whiskey, prior to aging, is moonshine!

So, What is Moonshine?

Moonshine is defined as a homemade, un-aged whiskey, marked by its clear color, corn base, and high alcohol content (sometimes peaking as high as 190 proof). Traditionally, it was produced in a homemade still and bottled in a mason jar.  For most of its history, moonshine was distilled in secret to avoid taxes and alcohol bans (specifically during the Prohibition Era).  The term “moonshiner” was popularized in the 18th century, where individuals deep in the woods of the Appalachia attempting to avoid being caught by police distilled under the light of the moon.

How it’s Made

Moonshine consists of:

  • Corn
  • Barley
  • Wheat or Rye (optional)
  • Yeast
  • Water

While distillate or moonshine can be made from pretty much any type of grain, it originally was made from barley or rye.  Moonshine at its purest form, is whiskey, or bourbon distillate.  It is un-aged, high in proof, and clear in color.  During the Prohibition Era, if grains were unavailable or too expensive, moonshiners would use white sugar which still gave them that alcohol “kick” they were looking for, but with a sweeter taste to it.

Making moonshine has two main steps: fermentation and distillation.  Fermentation is the process of yeast breaking down the sugars in the grains to produce alcohol.  Once the fermentation process is complete, the “moonshine mash” (fermented grains and yeast) is sent to the still.   As the temperature rises in the still, the steam is forced through the top of the still into the worm box.  The worm box is typically a barrel with cold water flowing through it and a metal coil pipe down the center.  Alcohol vapors flow through the coil pipe where they cool and condense back into a liquid.  The last part of distillation is the spout or valve that leads from the worm box to a bucket or steel drum.  Typically this would be sent through at least one filter, but potentially more.  The “XXX” label, that has been popularized in moonshine imagery, was originally an indication of quality; each “X” represented a time that it had been distilled.

Moonshine Today

Moonshine has changed quite a bit since the backyard bottlers of Prohibition. In 1933, U.S. alcohol production became legal, as long as you paid the appropriate taxes and had the correct permits.  While this makes moonshine legal, you are still prohibited from distilling some at home.  Why is this?  Mainly for safety reasons.  Distilling is a very precise chemical process that, when done incorrectly, can create a dangerous environment or produce a toxic libation.  Governmental regulations are not just for tax purposes, but to protect the consumer from drinking something that could cause serious health issues.

“Unlike other spirits, legally produced moonshine can be made with any source material, at any proof, can have coloring and flavoring added – the works. There are no rules for its classification,” said Colin Blake, director of spirits education at the Moonshine University website.

With such a loose classification of this grain alcohol, many different flavored products can still be considered moonshine!  At Jeptha Creed, we offer a high-proof original moonshine highlighting the traditional flavor profile, but made with modern distillation processes.  All of our moonshines start with the same four grains as our flagship bourbon, featuring our heirloom Bloody Butcher Corn.  If you’re less interested in this pure un-aged whiskey flavor, we have expanded into the modern spectrum of moonshine with a naturally-flavored lineup.  Delicious moonshine flavors like apple pie, blackberry, cinnamon, and lemonade represent our ode to the history with a focus on the future.  Our moonshine is even sold in mason jars as a “hats off” to the non-regulated history it came from.

Our line of moonshines are a far cry from the potentially deadly spirits that used to flow from homemade stills.  Representing its full integration into the contemporary alcohol industry, moonshine now even has its own holiday!  National Moonshine Day is on the first Thursday in June (June 2nd of 2022).  So fire up the backyard grill, pour some Jeptha Creed ‘shine into your mug, and cheers to the moonshiners and bootleggers that forged an unforgettable mark on alcohol history.

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